englishman abroad, Teaching English

… and then three come along at once

I’m giving up some of my work to make time for more work. The freelance Business English side of my work has been rather disappointing recently. Specifically, there was this one big firm that just didn’t have any lessons for months and months. “don’t worry!” they said, “we’ll be back next week!”

Well, they said that for six months and that left a big hole in my plans and finances. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to stop all of my other freelancing gigs from doing the same thing…

 … so to hell with it! I’m minimising my freelance work and prioritising another more predictable and more lucrative project now. I’m currently doing twice as much work for the time being, handing off my old clients to new people and segueing into my new project. I’m very busy!

There’s also plenty of work to be done in my work as a lecturer: one of my two university courses is presenting coursework and writing essays, the other one is about to have exams which I am writing. I’m very busy!

There’s also a house we’re looking at and a couple of top-secret projects I can’t write about yet. Unfortunately, all of this busyness has kept me away from my two pet projects, this blog and Brexpats, for a while.

It’s just like buses: you wait six months for one and then three turn up at once!

englishman abroad, royalty

Trying to explain the Queen to my five-year-old daughter

I have a new pair of rather British cufflinks. They are styled after first-class stamps, which means they have a picture of the Queen on them. Yesterday, my daughter got a good look at them and asked, “is that Granny on your earrings?”Queen Cufflink 2

No, I explained, it wasn’t Granny and they weren’t earrings.

I explained what cufflinks were for and then she asked who the lady was.

“That’s the Queen”

“what queen?”

“The Queen of England!”

“What?”

“The lady on the stamps, money –”

“Birds?”

“No, there’s no lady on birds. You know I come from England?”

“Yeah!”

“England has a Queen!”

“Papa! No it doesn’t! Show me!”

Aurelia proceeded to watch the entirety of the Queen’s 2016 Christmas speech without complaint or distraction.

“What does she do?”

“The Queen is a nice lady who gives speeches like that one and –”

“She talked about Jesus!”

“… Yeah. She occasionally does that because she’s in charge of the Church in England”

“It’s not a real church though”

“Yes, it’s a real church. I was baptised into that church”

Aurelia’s eyes widened as she misunderstood this last sentence, thinking that the Queen had personally been at my baptism or something.

“Wow…”

“and she lives in a big palace with lots of dogs”

“What dogs?”

“Corgis” I said, showing her a hastily googled picture of corgis.

“Can they talk?”

“No”

“Can she fly?”

“No”

“Are you sure she’s a queen?

englishman abroad, marriage

Hot Stone Massage

We’ve been married for just over a year now and my wife and I went to a spa to celebrate. This is the story of how British squeamishness came to a German ‘Wellness Centre’. It all started on the fifth of October, I took my wife out for an anniversary meal at a nice Italian restaurant and she revealed to me that she’d booked something for us as well. That weekend, she revealed, we were going to a ‘Wellness Centre’. Mindful of the catastrophe that befell me the last time we went to a sauna, I asked what we would be doing there. We would be getting a Hot Stone Massage!

“Cool!” I thought, “presumably there is absolutely no need to be completely bollock naked for such an endeavour!”

Here begins the story of how wrong I was:

The evening started in a building near our local swimming pool. Quite modern on the outside but full-blown Buddhist temple on the inside, as it turns out. Candles and Buddha statues and all sorts of associated flim-flam of the hippy-dippy variety. We sat down in the reception area and a hooded acolyte the receptionist lead us to a very charming room with a gigantic bath in it, filled with what looked like milk. Here we were to bathe as Cleopatra did, in asses’ milk. I did feel like quite the ass as it happens, but the receptionist left us to it and it was quite pleasant.

After this, we put on some very nice and fluffy robes and went into an adjacent room for the Hot Stone Massage, the main event. There were two nice ladies.

One of them explained that we were to disrobe and lie naked on the massage tables.

Then they waited.

I waited.

They waited.

My wife disrobed and lay on the massage table as instructed.

“Shit” I thought. “I’m an Englishman, I don’t do nakedness in front of strangers!”

“Please lay on the table so we can give you the hot Ständer – er – Stein Massage”

That Freudian slip there is an interesting lexical mix-up. Stein means stone, Ständer means boner.

“They think I’ve got a boner! I’ll be damned if they think I’m some priapic teenager!”

I begrudgingly half-took-off my robe to preserve my modesty, this did not work; I lay on the massage table and flopped about like a seal in a net trying to get the robe off. I looked like an arse. They saw my arse. They helped me off with the robe and dutifully covered my arse up again. Thankfully, the massage itself was great.

Not ‘hot Ständer’ great, but pretty great.

 

englishman abroad, german language

Motörhead syndrome: 3 things I didn’t learn from the ‘Learn German in 3 Months’ book

Before I came to Germany I was living in Greater London and commuting into Vauxhall or Waterloo every day to do my small part for the endlessly depressing, harried, grey rat race that working in London so often is. Eventually, I decided to make better use of my time on these cramped, overpriced and poorly maintained trains in which commuters were packed like sardines.

I bought myself a ‘Learn German in 3 Months’ book and decided to study it whilst I was stuck in commuting purgatory. I must say, I was actually quite impressed with it. Not only because the Germans within it were presented as gleefully and stereotypically unhelpful, but also because this introductory course to the German language was quite simple to grasp.

However, a ‘learn in 3 months’ course is no substitute for immersion in the language, and I made some howling mistakes once I arrived in Germany. For your enjoyment, I present some of them:

  1. Accidental Cannibalism

On one of the very first times I came to visit Germany, we went out for dinner with some friends at a nice little bar and restaurant place. The waitress came to take our orders and I, in my very proudest I-learned-this-from-a-book German, said:

 “Ich hätte gerne ein Bürger,” which surely means “I’d like a burger”, right?

No. It meant “I’d like a citizen”. Everyone laughed at the stupid, rapidly reddening Englishman who had fallen prey to what I like to call ‘Motörhead syndrome’. Motörhead syndrome is when you think that a German word has to have an umlaut, simply by dint of being German. The German word for burger is “Burger” by the way, no umlauts.

  1. Accidental Homophobia

I grew up in Britain, so there’s a certain amount of rain and misery that I expect wherever I go. Imagine my surprise when I got to Germany and found out how hot and sticky it can get during summer. My inner thermostat is set for cool temperatures and when the mercury rises above twenty Celsius I start to suffer, especially in business attire. A source of great amusement to my colleagues, I am sure, was my long-running excuse that the weather outside was too humid and hot for me.

“Es ist zu heiß draußen” I would say, “ und viel zu schwul”.

Unfortunately, this means “it’s too hot and far too gay”.

I had fallen prey to that most insidious of traps, which I like to call ‘reverse-Motörhead syndrome’. Reverse-Motörhead syndrome is when you think that a German word doesn’t need an umlaut, because of Motörhead syndrome. It’s also called ‘overthinking’. So ‘schwul’ means gay and ‘schwül’ means humid. It’s all very confusing because the word ‘schwül’ sounds very camp (even though it isn’t).

  1. No, no, it’s fine. Where’s the crapper?

Sometimes you just have no idea where you went wrong until much later. This is one such event. Whilst queueing at the supermarket like a true Englishman, the lady waiting in front of me noticed that I had far fewer articles to buy than she did.

“Please,” she said “you can go in front”.

“No, no,” I replied “it’s fine. It’s raining outside. I will wait here anyway”.

“are you sure?” she said

“yes,” I smiled, “I must”

(“Ja, Ich muss”)

She stared at me. “… you mean wait, right?”

“Yes….?”

Almost everyone in the queue was looking at me like I was an utter simpleton or worse, and a few sported a sardonic smile. I had no idea why.

It wasn’t until about a week later that I overheard a little boy informing his parents that he needed the toilet urgently, that I realised my mistake. “Ich muss” literally means “I must” but without anything else on the end it defaults to “I must go to the toilet”.

Which means I had contradicted myself days previously in the queue:

“No, you go ahead. I’ll wait. I’ve got all the time in the world. I need the toilet” I said, smiling.

Bear in mind that I was waiting in line to buy a pre-packaged sandwich, that’s Grade-A lunatic material.

The moral of these stories is this: learning from a book is a great first step, but it’s no substitute for experience. How do you get experience? By making mistakes.

Red and Blue Pill
englishman abroad, Teaching English

Sometimes my lessons go like this…

Most of the time, lessons have a specific plan: ‘I will teach my students about X today’.

X could be new vocabulary for technical English, or when to use the present simple and when the progressive, it could even be a more functional lesson like how to traverse an airport in English, or book a hotel.

But sometimes the students have a lesson plan: ‘today we want to talk about Y’.

Y could be pretty much anything that would appear in X, but it can also be whatever bee happens to be in the students’ bonnet at the time.

Yesterday I had an amazingly unplanned conversational lesson with a couple of sociologists about Action Theory versus Communication Theory, whether societal actions were communications or vice versa and the great sociologists such as Durkheim, Parsons et al. My sociologists are very academic, better qualified and far cleverer than me (Prof. This and Dr. That).

BUT I had the opportunity to bamboozle the students a couple of times by injecting and explaining relevant ideas from other fields: Behavioural Economics and Predictable Irrationality (I’m a big fan of Dan Ariely), and Illocutionary Acts (John L. Austin’s philosophical / linguistic concepts on performative utterance).

My planned lesson on grammar went out of the window, of course, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. This particular group has one lesson left, I hope it will be about X, but I’m going to swot up on Jean Baudrillard just in case it’s about Y again.